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December 12, 1986 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-12-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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22

Friday, December 12, 1986 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

:.■■•

SEIKO

DR. FRANKLIN H. LITTELL '

Special to The Jewish. News

robably few issues
have concentrated
more organized opin-
ion and economic power in
two opposing camps than the
issue of pornography — or, to
be more precise, the public
advertising and display and
sale of pornographic books
and films. An American gov-
ernment report is in hand; a
Canadian government study
is forthcoming.
Why, parents and other de-
cent citizens ask, should they
be compelled to allow a so-
called "Adult Book Store"
into their neighborhood? For
many who feel protective
toward their children, the
issue is the same as if they
were compelled to allow a
drug-pusher to set up shop in
their neighborhood.
Why, those who are mak-
ing money on pornography
ask, should their right to buy
and sell be censored by Mrs.
Grundy? And they are joined
by "civil libertarians" who
see in any "censorship" the
specter of an impending Star
Chamber. They claim that
"freedom of speech" and
"freedom of press" are at
stake, that to yield an iota on
First Amendment Liberties is
to let the camel's nose into
the tent.
What does the First
Amendment actually say?
The text is clear: "Congress
shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exer-
cise thereof or abridging the
freedom of speech, or of the
press, or the right of the
people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition the Govern-
ment for a redress of griev-
ances." In recent years the
Supreme Court has
broadened the prohibition to
include all levels of govern-
ment: state, municipal and
village as well as national.
Perhaps it seems "teachy
and preachy" to emphasize
the text, but there are con-
stantly cases of public con-
cern where people cry out for
the First Amendment —
cases where the First
Amendment has nothing to
do with it.
If a college president, for
instance, says that a student
cannot be stopped from using
a college machine to dupli-
cate and distribute racist
material because his "First
Amendment rights" are in-
volved, it is the college
president that needs to be
sent back to school. The First
Amendment does not apply to
private associations, to
churches or synagogues, to
com-
non-governmental
munities. They have their
own orders and their own

Rev. Littell is founder of the
Anne Frank Institute in
Philadelphia.

sets of liberties and respon-
sibilities.
The Supreme Court has re-
cently decided that a law
banning the advertising of
harmful services is constitu-
tional. There is a strong
move toward limiting or pro-
hibiting the advertising of
tobacco. In all such cases,
"freedom of speech" is
argued, as though the First
Amendment is intended to
protect all commerce and
money-making, regardless of
how damaging such freedom
may be in a society.
The only way to settle the
matter is by remembering
what our basic liberties are
all about.
The five basic liberties
listed in the First Amend-
ment had one public purpose:
to make possible an open and
informed debate on pubic is-
sues, so that everyone who
was going to have to live
with a policy or a law could
have a part in making it. In
sum, the purpose of freedom
of the press and freedom of
speech is simply to see to it
that all useful points of view
get entered into the public
debate before decisions are
made. The premise is that
everyone who has to live with
the present and future conse-
quences of action by govern-
ment is entitled to discuss
that action before it becomes
law. He is entitled without
regard to his religious mem-
bership or lack of it, and he
is entitled to use speech,
writing, assembly and peti-
tion if he wishes to do so.
There is only one question
of weight: Does the speaking
or printi Ag or other exercise
of liberty help to enliven and
inform the public debate?
It is utter nonsense to
claim, as the American Civil
Liberties Union has done,
that marching in uniform by
American fascists — with the
purpose of intimidating loyal
citizens — is "symbolic
speech." Such action is not
edifying. It does not help
build informed public opin-
ion. Nor is it intended to be
helpful. It is terrorism, in-
tended to destabilize and
undermine the free society.
The declared violence of such
people, which they also prac-
tice, is a threat to the repub-
lic and to the privacy and
dignity of loyal citizens.
To argue by voice or writ-
ing that fascism is a better
way of life than democracy is
an action protected by the
First Amendment. By con-
trast, to organize violence
against fellow-citizens is not
protected, under any intelli-
gent reading of the text. To
argue by voice or by writing
that pornography is a literary
genre, or even that its wide
distribution benefits a
society, is protected by the
First Amendment. To set up
a so-called Adult Book Shop
in a family neighborhood is
not protected, under any rea-
sonable reading of the text.


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